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GOP Lawmakers to John King: Take Back Your Draft ESSA Spending Rules

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Over two dozen GOP members of Congress want the U.S. Department of Education to rescind its proposed spending rules for the Every Student Succeeds Act because they contradict and violate the spirit of the law.

On Nov. 4, 25 members of the House and Senate wrote to Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. that his department's proposal for the supplement-not-supplant requirement runs counter to the intent of Congress, and "includes additional requirements on [districts] that are unlawful, unnecessary, and could result in harmful consequences to [districts], schools, teachers, and students." The letter is signed by the respective chairman of the House and Senate education committees, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

The letter was submitted as a comment on the proposed rules—the public-comment period on the department's proposal closes today. The final rules from the department could be out by the end of the year, but the next administration could rework or rescind those rules. 

The supplement-not-supplant part of the law requires districts to show that they are spending federal dollars in addition to, and not in place of, state and local spending on schools. The Education Department's draft regulations for that requirement would give districts several options for showing they're in compliance, including one that requires close-to-equalized spending between Title I schools (those with large shares of students from low-income households) and non-Title I schools.

Department officials as well as civil rights groups say the proposal would ensure more resources for disadvantaged students and take decisive action against districts that have been improperly depriving those students of badly needed money.

But Republican lawmakers as well as groups representing state and district officials have attacked the department's approach on this issue for months. They argue that it would badly disrupt how districts draw up their budgets and distribute people and resources. And they also say that, in contrast to the department's heavy-handed approach, ESSA itself actually creates more flexibility for districts on this issue by no longer requiring them to itemize expenses in order to show that federal money is truly supplementing their budgets.

Here's one relevant passage from the Nov. 4 letter from Alexander, Kline, and the other lawmakers: 

The plain language and unambiguously expressed intent of this provision is to provide more flexibility to LEAs in complying with [supplement-not-supplant] by demonstrating that their methodology for distributing state and local funds does not account for the Title I funds, and, therefore, any federal Title I dollars that a school receives is clearly supplemental to the state and local funds that they would otherwise receive. Compliance is established once this methodology is demonstrated. Thus, this should be the end of the matter. However, the regulatory clarification proposed in the [draft rules] goes well beyond the requirement set forth clearly in statute and unambiguously expressed intent of Congress.  

And the lawmakers also say the department is distorting the intent and history of the supplement-not-supplant requirement itself, writing to King that, "Many states have examined and are continuing to examine whether their own state and local funds are being allocated equitably to Title I and non-Title I schools. However, [supplement-not-supplant] has never required, nor is it intended to require, equity or fairness in the allocation of state and local education dollars."


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